For the past year, photographer Elliot Ross has been photographing the world of farmer Jim Mertens. Inspired by the empathetic imagery of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans for the Farm Security Administration, Ross created an essay that examines the relationship between the farmer and the land, giving both characters equal focus in “The Reckoning Days.” The grains of wheat and the cracked palms of laborers are given the same attention, depicted in a mesmerizing palette of blues and yellows. This is how bread, the most basic staple of our diet, is made. “Society is generally removed from the processes in which bread and hundreds of other products reach our baskets,” Ross said. "We must protect, nurture, and celebrate the salt of the earth.” [17 photos total]

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The second day of harvest is cut short by a supercell blowing in from the West. Colton prays that the rain will stray to the South as his wife Lauren looks on and their niece Carlee twirls in her own rain dance. (Elliot Ross) #
In a choreographed dance, combines pass one another as they begin cutting a new field. (Elliot Ross) #
Deanna, who has lived on a homestead for over 75 years, is ever vigilant of the weather. She looks for signs of rain to the South and East as the sky darkens before retiring to bed. (Elliot Ross) #
With thumb and forefinger, Cole inspects a grain of wheat for moisture content before the start of harvest. Because of the wet spring and summer, wheat too wet to cut becomes an increasingly stressful problem as July progresses. (Elliot Ross) #
Women often times are the bedrock of farming families, offering support and comfort through the long hours and intense stress while still performing their daily tasks. (Elliot Ross) #
Andrew climbs to dizzying heights inside the new bin that he hopes will soon be full of wheat. (Elliot Ross) #
Dressed in their Sunday's best, the Mertens family checks a wheat field before weekend breakfast with the whole family. (Elliot Ross) #
A freshly cut field of dry-land wheat lies next to a pasture, unseasonably green on account of the persistent record breaking rains. (Elliot Ross) #
As with many farming families in rural Colorado, the Bible offers guidance and assurance through tough times. As the matriarch, Deanna often gives advice to others that she interprets from these worn pages. (Elliot Ross) #
Harvest suppers are not taken lightly. Tradition and pride dictates a meal elaborately prepared by the women, consisting of a main meat dish, two sides, a dessert, and ice tea or lemonade. The men work in shifts, ensuring that the combines never stop harvesting. (Elliot Ross) #
Lightning strobes on the near horizon, threatening fields with fire, hail, stong wind, and rain. (Elliot Ross) #
Spring brought floods throughout the plains of northeastern Colorado. The results were dichotomous; on one hand they threatened homes and flooded low lying fields but at the same time nurtured the best crop of wheat in living memory. (Elliot Ross) #
A semi-trailer is topped off till it’s brimming with the last of the day’s wheat harvest. (Elliot Ross) #
Firefighters struggle to contain a haystack fire ignited by spontaneous combustion at a local grain elevator. (Elliot Ross) #
Chaff, the dusty byproduct of thrashing wheat, catches a ray of light as it’s kicked out the end of a combine. (Elliot Ross) #
Taking a morning off from harvest, three farmers in their Sunday’s best stand in the threshold of the barn for a sermon at Cowboy Church in New Raymer, Colorado. (Elliot Ross) #
Combines thrash and toil kicking up dust and spitting out chaff as the sun dips below the horizon. (Elliot Ross) #

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